Moderate COPD may mean that physical activity is more difficult, and you may cough up mucus more regularly. People with moderate COPD can take steps to improve their life expectancy by preventing progression to severe COPD.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a type of lung disease that makes it hard to breathe. The condition is progressive, which means it may gradually worsen over time.
But not every case is the same. Your exact treatment plan may depend on whether you have mild, moderate, or severe COPD. If a healthcare professional has recently told you that your COPD is in a moderate stage, here’s the key information you need to know.
According to the Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD), moderate COPD means you:
- may cough regularly
- may cough up mucus regularly
- feel out of breath after working hard or walking quickly
- may have trouble performing hard work or chores
- may take weeks to recover from a chest infection or cold
You may hear a health professional use other terms to describe your COPD.
Doctors classify COPD into four grades based on your level of airflow obstruction, or blockage. They determine this based on a forced expiratory volume (FEV1) test. This test measures the amount of air you’re able to breathe out as you blow into a spirometer.
Grade 1 COPD means you have mild airflow obstruction. Grade 4 means that your obstruction is very severe. In the past, doctors defined Grade 2 COPD as “moderate.” That’s when your FEV1 is 50% to 79% of your expected value.
A doctor may also classify your COPD risk of exacerbations (flare-ups) into one of groups A to D. Your group is based on your symptoms and the number of exacerbations you have per year.
In addition to clinical staging, a doctor may use the BODE index, a 0 to 10 scale, to describe your condition and outlook. It assesses the following information, no matter your stage, grade, or group of COPD:
- body mass index (BMI)
- airflow obstruction
- breathlessness (dyspnea)
- exercise capacity and tolerance
The lower your BODE score, the less severe your COPD. One
The symptoms of moderate COPD are the same as those of mild COPD. But you may notice that symptoms are more severe in this stage.
Overall, you may notice worsening:
- cough, becoming more chronic throughout the day and night
- mucus production, which may also be changing in thickness and color
- shortness of breath, especially when you do any physical activity
- chest tightness
Moderate COPD may lead to an increased number of respiratory infections. You may also experience bluish fingers or lips, which are signs of low oxygen levels in your blood.
Since there’s no cure for COPD, treatment at moderate stages aims to prevent your condition from progressing to more severe forms.
Treatment for moderate COPD will likely involve a combination of the following methods:
- Bronchodilators: These inhaled medications help you breathe easier by relaxing your airway muscles.
- Lifestyle modifications: Among the most important changes are quitting smoking, avoiding secondhand smoke, and exercising.
- Antibiotics: While not intended for long-term use, a doctor may prescribe these for certain bacterial lung infections.
- Pulmonary rehabilitation: This program combines exercise training, breathing techniques, and nutritional counseling to improve your overall quality of life with COPD.
Unlike moderate COPD, more severe cases may require additional treatments, including inhaled corticosteroids, oxygen therapy, or surgery.
No matter what stage of COPD a doctor gives you a diagnosis of, they will recommend you stay up-to-date on your vaccinations, such as those for the flu, pneumonia, and COVID-19. Having COPD puts you at higher risk for serious illness and related complications.
Factors that affect life expectancy with COPD vary greatly. But in general, the lower the stage and the sooner you seek treatment, the better your overall outlook.
A 2020 study found that people with grade 2 COPD could expect to lose about 6.2 years of life from their life expectancy.
This number may be higher for smokers. Smoking with COPD is one of the greatest factors that can decrease life expectancy, with an average of 6 to 9 years lost once you’ve reached severe stages of COPD.
According to the American Lung Association, females with a history of smoking are 13 times more likely to die from COPD, and males are 12 times more likely to die from COPD than males who have never smoked.
COPD is a progressive disease, meaning that it is likely to worsen over time. The goals of treatment for moderate COPD are to help you feel better and participate in everyday activities while also reducing the rate of progression to severe stages.
Rather than focusing on your clinical stage of COPD, it’s important to pay attention to your everyday symptoms.
If you notice any worsening symptoms that limit your daily activities, you may be developing severe COPD and should consider talking with a doctor. Additionally, severe stages may cause:
- loss of appetite
- unintentional weight loss
- swelling in your lower extremities (legs, ankles, and feet)
- muscle weakness
Research from 2018 shows that, aside from early treatment, one of the best things you can do to prevent COPD from progressing is to stop smoking, if you currently smoke.
Does moderate COPD qualify as a disability?
Like other respiratory diseases that significantly affect your daily activities, COPD is considered a disability. Qualification for disability benefits depends on your age, your gender, and documented proof of chronic impairment of respiration (gas exchange).
Since moderate COPD may impact your day-to-day life more than mild COPD, you may also consider accommodations at your place of employment, as outlined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
What activities should I avoid with moderate COPD?
Due to the effects of cigarette smoke on your lungs, it’s important to avoid smoking, as well as secondhand and thirdhand smoke, whenever possible. Consider making your home, place of work, and vehicle smoke-free zones.
A doctor may also recommend avoiding other known lung irritants, such as chemical fumes and air pollution. Consider staying indoors on days when ozone levels are high in your area. You can check ozone levels on AirNow.gov.
Can moderate COPD be reversed?
There’s no cure for COPD, and you can’t reverse the damage to the lungs and air sacs associated with this condition, even in moderate stages. Instead of reversing moderate COPD, a doctor can help you find ways to prevent it from progressing to more severe forms.
COPD is a chronic and progressive condition that makes it hard to breathe. A diagnosis of moderate COPD means that your condition has progressed beyond mild forms but is not yet severe enough to warrant more aggressive treatments.
If you have concerns about your breathing or have recently been diagnosed with moderate COPD, talk with a doctor about all of your treatment options and possible lifestyle modifications you may need to make. These can help prevent your condition from rapidly progressing.